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Memorial for language marks seventieth anniversary of Martyrs' Day

Mayor John Biggs lays a wreath

Mayor John Biggs lays a wreath at the Shaheed Minar in Altab Ali Park.

Individuals visited Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel on Monday 21 February, to mark Martyrs’ Day, otherwise known as The United Nations' (UN) International Mother Language Day.  

Observed worldwide on 21 February each year, Mother Language Day promotes and celebrates linguistic and cultural diversity.  

The date was chosen in recognition of the killing of four students in Bangladesh on 21 February 1952, during a campaign to officially use their mother language, Bengali. It has been a public holiday in Bangladesh since 1953.  

The Shaheed Minar (‘Martyr Monument’) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which commemorates those students, has a replica in Altab Ali Park in Whitechapel, which is the focus for public commemoration in Tower Hamlets. 

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Speaker of the Council, Cllr Mohammed Ahbab Hossain and Councillor Sabina Akhtar, Cabinet Member for Culture, Arts and Sport, laid wreaths at the Shaheed Minar in Altab Ali Park. 

John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said:  “Martyrs’ Day marks the sacrifice of those who fought and died for the recognition of their mother language, and it also symbolises the importance of protecting and embracing different cultures, languages and ways of life. 

“Tower Hamlets is proud to be such a tolerant and welcoming place, and I’m delighted that on the 70th anniversary of Martyrs’ Day we’re able to come together in person to mark this important day.” 

According to the UN, every two weeks a language disappears, taking with it an entire cultural and linguistic heritage. Forty-three per cent of the estimated 6,000 languages spoken in the world are also reportedly endangered. 

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Martyrs Day and the theme is ‘Using technology for multilingual learning: Challenges and opportunities.  

Her Excellency Saida Muna Tasneem, High Commissioner for Bangladesh said:  

“The Immortal Ekushey is a symbol of honour and glory in the history of the Bengali nation, as on this day in 1952, fearless Bengali students made supreme sacrifices to realise the right to speak in their mother-tongue Bangla as a state language.  

“It is a matter of pride that in 1999 under the visionary diplomatic leadership of Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and few overseas Bangladeshis, Bangladesh's Language Martyrs’ Day, 21 February received recognition as the International Mother Language Day at the UNESCO, transcending the spirit of Omor Ekushey to the multilingual global community.  

“Each year, the High Commission also celebrates International Mother Language Day with all diplomatic missions in London to promote multilingualism, diversity and global peace. Today, I call upon our young Bangladeshi diaspora in Tower Hamlets and beyond to use the digital technology at the tip of their hands for multilingual learning.” 


Notes to editor:  

The largest driver for population growth for Tower Hamlets has been international migration, contributing more than half the borough’s population (ONS mid-year estimates 2018). Four in 10 residents were born outside of the UK.  

Census data (2011) shows:  

  • More than two thirds (69 per cent) of the borough’s population belong to minority ethnic groups: 55 percent belong to BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) groups and a further 14 per cent are from white minority groups. 

  • The Bangladeshi population makes up almost one-third (32 per cent) of the borough’s population – considerably larger than the proportion across London (three per cent) or England (under one per cent). Tower Hamlets has the largest Bangladeshi population in England; approx. 25 per cent of the entire diaspora. 

United Nations: safeguarding linguistic diversity 

Languages, with their complex implications for identity, communication, social integration, education and development, are of strategic importance for people and planet. Yet, due to globalization processes, they are increasingly under threat, or disappearing altogether. When languages fade, so does the world's rich tapestry of cultural diversity. Opportunities, traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking and expression — valuable resources for ensuring a better future — are also lost. 

Every two weeks a language disappears, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world. 

Multilingual and multicultural societies exist through their languages which transmit and preserve traditional knowledge and cultures in a sustainable way. 

International Mother Language Day is observed every year to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. 



Posted on Monday 21st February 2022